FCC Bans Text Message, International Spoofing

TCPA Connect

Closing “a loophole in the law,” the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules banning caller ID “spoofing”—i.e., using a “fake” caller ID number— for text messages and foreign calls.

The latest step in the agency’s efforts to combat spoofing—following a record $120 million fine issued last year—the new rules broadened the FCC’s authority to hold international fraudsters and those sending spoofed text messages liable.

Although the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 (more commonly known as the TCIA) prohibits “anyone from causing a caller ID service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller ID information (‘spoofing’) with the intent to defraud, cause harm or obtain anything of value,” it took the passage of the RAY BAUM Act (more formally known as the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act of 2018) last year to extend the ban to text messages, calls originating from outside the United States to recipients within the country and additional types of voice calls, including one-way Voice over Internet Protocol calls.

The rules also added definitions of “text message,” “text messaging service” and “voice service,” with revisions to the existing definitions of “caller identification information” and “caller identification service.”

The final rules largely track the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the FCC earlier this year after commenters expressed support for the changes, frequently noting the “explosion” of robocalls that use caller ID spoofing to mislead consumers, the agency said.

In a statement about the adoption of the new rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted that the FCC has already received more than 35,000 consumer complaints about caller ID spoofing in just the first half of 2019 alone. In a separate statement, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly explained that he would have preferred narrower statutory language for the rules.

“While I am grateful to Congress for this mandate, I must admit that some of the new statutory provisions give me pause,” he wrote. “As I have expressed before, the expanded extraterritorial jurisdiction may prove difficult to execute in uncooperative nations and come back to bite us in other contexts. In addition, the definitions of text messaging and voice services are broader than my liking and may cause future unintended consequences.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel proposed an even tougher approach, working backward to identify the network source of the robocalls. “I think it should start with the FCC naming and shaming the carriers responsible for letting these nuisance calls onto the network,” she said. “In other words, we could use this traceback process to shine a light on the worst offenders.”

The new rules will take effect in February 2020.

To read the FCC’s report and order, along with the statements of the commissioners, click here.

Why it matters: The new rules are just one piece of the FCC’s multiprong approach to combat caller ID spoofing, the agency emphasized, referencing recent record-setting fines for violations of the caller ID spoofing rules as well as its push for the phone industry to implement a caller ID “authentication” framework called SHAKEN/STIR.



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